One of Australia’s most remote towns has a boxing gym for women

Doug Hendrie

9/12/2019 4:22:18 PM

Founder Dr Sarah Edmundson wants to use boxing to help the women of Kintore feel their own strength.

Women of Kintore
The young women and elders of Kintore have flocked to the new boxing gym.

Every week, women file in to an impromptu boxing gym in Kintore, a tiny town more than 500 km west of Alice Springs and just shy of the West Australian border.
There, in the Kungkas Boxing Gym, elders and young women don gloves and learn stances and punches.
They leave feeling stronger.
One regular attendee is elder Monica Nangala, Chair of the Pintupi Homelands Health Service. Ms Nangala recently asked the kungkas – ‘girls’ in Western Desert language – who attend the gym whether they can feel the difference. Many nodded.  
For Ms Nangala, the answer is clear.
‘It’s really good. It helps your mind and body, helps you lose weight, and helps you stay strong,’ she said.
Fellow elder Lorna Nangala believes boxing helps her health. She has lost 5 kg since starting.
‘I feel good and I move quicker now,’ she said.
The town of 454 people is one of the most remote in Australia, and a key centre of the Western Desert art movement.
Kintore began in the 1980s as part of the outstation movement, where Aboriginal people left government-created settlements – where assimilation policy was in force – and returned to build communities on traditional land. Kintore is on traditional Pintupi land.

'We were called nomads, we used to move around a lot until the 1960s and 70s. But this is our settle-down country,' Monica Nangala (also known as Monica Robinson) has said.  

'Kintore is a small place but it grows. We plant the seed, we water the seed, and it grows.'
And now the town has its own boxing gym.
The gym is the brainchild of Cairns GP Dr Sarah Edmundson, who started it as a way to help women boost their own strength and resilience. After all, boxing had worked for her.
In Cairns, where she lives the other nine months of the year, Dr Edmundson trains under Brian Gray, a Kullilli man whose boxing gym, Natural Born Fighters, is aimed at helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to become strong in their bodies, and strong in their culture.
Mr Gray, who represented Australia in boxing, is a Stolen Generations man who grew up in an orphanage.
Seeing her mentor’s work inspired Dr Edmundson to follow suit. She recently gained her trainer’s license.
‘If I go to the gym [to do weights], I’ll drift off into my thoughts. But in boxing, you focus on that, nothing else. That’s what I know personally,’ Dr Edmundson told newsGP.  
‘Brian has been a really big mentor in all of this. He’s an inspiration. He didn’t know his family for 25 years, and now lots of girls come down from Cape York to stay with family [and train with him].’
As she trained, Dr Edmundson observed how her coach was using boxing to find ways of connecting to the young women.
‘A lot of these girls have had trauma in their lives, but they’re improving their wellbeing despite the trauma,’ she said.
‘I saw the impact he was having on them and thought, “I could do the same in the desert”.’ 
The gym complements Dr Edmundson’s work as a GP.
‘I wanted to do something positive for the community. If I just look at the clinical parameters, it might be, “Is their diabetes getting better? Are they losing weight?” The results might be limited,’ she said.
‘But if I get 30 people in the gym one day and get four people coming regularly that’s a positive result, whatever way you look at it.’
It also helps Dr Edmundson engage with her community as a fly in, fly out GP.
‘If people know me outside the clinic, they’re more likely to come and see me,’ she said.
Is it a success? Dr Edmundson believes so.
One of her regulars recently said she feel stronger as she walks around her community.
Survivors of family violence have turned to the gym as a way to rediscover their strength.
‘That’s empowerment,’ Dr Edmundson said.
Running a women’s boxing gym in Kintore is a long way from Birmingham, UK, where Dr Edmundson grew up.
‘How did I end up here? I said yes lots of times in a row,’ she said. ‘I guess I happened upon this by chance, and managed to stumble into what I think is the best job in the world.’
Dr Edmundson got a taste for rural and remote work after working in hospitals in Townsville and general practice on Palm Island.
‘What used to frustrate me about emergency was the inability to follow-up. With surgery, it was not having time to get to know the patients,’ she said. 
‘In rural general practice you see such a variety of presentations that no day is boring. When I started remote work, it was getting to know the community that did it for me.’
Dr Edmundson soon found herself working in more and more remote communities on Cape York, such as Napranum and Aurukun. Then came Thursday Island, and now Kintore.
She raves about the Pintupi Homeland Health Service, where she is based, praising the remote area’s nurses and doctors.
‘[The health service] has been able to provide continuity of care but also sustainability of the workforce. It’s a fabulous place to work and such an awesome team,’ she said.
‘That is why I am still working there, and will be into the foreseeable future.’
And that means the Kungkas Boxing Gym will be, too.

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Dr Simon Charles Madin   10/12/2019 12:25:36 PM

Good on you Sarah. Fantastic initiative! Keep up the good work.

Dr Xin Hui Ong   14/12/2019 7:45:14 AM

This is really soul-feeding and inspiring. An excellent primary prevention public health care initiative from the ground up in a sustainable way. Amazing work, Sarah.